Emirati woman, 18, retracts claim of rape by six men

Prosecutors decide to continue with case as charges are dropped against one man, leaving five still facing death penalty if convicted.

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ABU DHABI // An 18-year-old Emirati woman who was charged with having consensual sex after alleging that she had been raped by six men retracted all her statements in court yesterday. She told the judge she wanted to withdraw her accusations against all the defendants.

The woman, LH, offered no explanation in court as to why she changed her statements, other than being "unaware" of her actions when she reported the crime. She added that her brother beat her after accusing her of talking to other men, and after the beating she went to the police to report the rapes. If the prosecution drops the charge of consensual sex, the woman could face a lesser charge related to deception, which is punishable by six months to two years in prison.

If found guilty of consensual sex, as a Muslim woman, she would face lashes and a maximum sentence of life in prison. Although she changed her evidence, the charges are criminal, not civil, so it is for the prosecution to decide whether to drop the consensual-sex charge. Prosecutors said yesterday that none of the charges had been dropped at this stage. According to court records, on May 2, LH went for a drive with a male Emirati friend, HA, in Baniyas.

Prosecutors said she went with the intention of having consensual sex with HA, a charge she denies. HA parked his Nissan Altima in an area called Bahia and had sex with her, prosecutors said. He is accused of then telephoning five of his friends, who joined him and raped LH from 1.30am to 5am. She went to the police after the incident and told them she had been raped by the men in the back seat of the car. She was tested by the Forensics Unit at the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, and evidence of assault was cited by the public prosecution in charging all six men with rape.

Since last week, charges against one defendant have been dropped. One of the men has been released on bail, two are in police custody and two are being tried in their absence. Four of the remaining male defendants are Emirati and one is Iraqi. All are 19 years old and, therefore, being tried as adults. When LH retracted her statement, Chief Justice Sayeed Abdul Baseer, the president of the criminal court, said "Masha'Allah", an Arabic phrase indicating an act of surprise. He asked: "So you did not have sex with any of these men?"

"No," she replied. The judge ordered her to come closer to the panel, because she spoke quietly and had her eyes fixed on the ground. "But [YM, the defendant on bail] told the police in details that he had consensual sex with you," the judge said. "I do not know [why he said that]," she replied. The male defendants and the young woman were standing about 20ft apart in court. The woman, who is still being held in custody, was in handcuffs.

When the judge questioned YM, he also denied having sex or confessing to rape. The judge chastised him as the young man visibly held back laughter, reminding him that if he is found guilty, he faces the death penalty, as do all the men accused of rape. YM, when asked by the judge, declined to request a lawyer. After the judge explained that it was mandatory to have a lawyer where the death penalty is a potential sentence, YM agreed to find one. The two defendants in custody were both represented yesterday by lawyers. The young woman also did not appear with a lawyer, and she was not asked about appointing one. No member of her family was present in court.

The judge adjourned the hearing until June 7 for defendants to bring lawyers and present their defence. myoussef@thenational.ae hhassan@thenational.ae